Schubert - The Late Piano Sonatas
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Label: Harmonia Mundi
Cat No: HMC90216566
Number of Discs: 2
Release Date: 5th May 2014
WorksPiano Sonata no.14 in A minor, D784
Piano Sonata no.19 in C minor, D958
Piano Sonata no.20 in A major, D959
Piano Sonata no.21 in B flat major, D960
ArtistsPaul Lewis (piano)
Paul Lewis is today regarded as one of the leading pianists of his generation, having won the most coveted prizes of the great classical institutions for both his concert career and his recordings on harmonia mundi, topped by three Gramophone Awards, including Record of the Year in 2008. He is also the first pianist in the history of the BBC Proms to have played the complete Beethoven concertos in a single season (2010).
Early in 2011, Paul Lewis embarked on a two-year concert tour devoted to the works written by Schubert in the last six years of his life. Now completed, he has played in London, New York, Chicago, Tokyo, Melbourne, Rotterdam, Bologna and Florence, and at the Schwarzenberg Schubertiade and the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées in Paris.
“And though he's still young we shall come to recognise him - I mean immediately, by his sound, as one can recognise all the finest players. And then there will be the recognition of his distinctive personality, which on this showing is fresh, inquisitive, highly intelligent, and already astonishingly mature and equal to the challenge of being a guide on our journey through these great works. He makes us follow; makes us listen; he knows how and when to produce magic and also knows when it is enough just to open doors in order to reveal wondrous things. He can be straightforward and knows how to sing a lyric without portentousness.” - Stephen Plaistow, CD Review, BBC Radio 3, 17 May 2003
CD 1 (D784 & D958): recorded 2013
CD 2 (D959 & D960): recorded 2002 [was HMC901800] - Penguin Guide Key Recording
The Europadisc Review
The works presented in this new two-disc set from Harmonia Mundi – Schubert's great last three sonatas plus the A minor Sonata, D784 – were among the first to be recorded by Paul Lewis in his much-admired series of Schubert discs. Indeed, the fine accounts of D959 and D960, made in September 2002, are simply reissued here, and very welcome they are, too. The slightly earlier recordings of D784 and D958, however, were marred by poor sound, leading David Fanning of the Gramophone to declare that '[Lewis] deserves a lot better than he has been given here.' Happily, Harmonia Mundi have now given the pianist the chance to re-record those two works, and the results (set down in Berlin's Teldex Studio in March and April 2013) are a considerable improvement over that earlier disc.
The result is an attractively-priced set that amply demonstrates why Lewis is now widely considered to be the leading exponent of Schubert's piano music. His new readings of the A minor and C minor sonatas have a degree more urgency than they did before, yet there is never anything forced, let alone rushed, about his playing. Schubert's bold harmonic and melodic vistas are allowed to unfold at a natural pace, and Lewis knows exactly when to open up for more reflection, and when to tighten things up for more momentum. His subtle use of rubato is peerless, as is his unerring ability to tap into the rich yet gaunt lyricism of this music.
In the A minor Sonata of February 1823, the opening Allegro giusto has a particularly haunted air about it, the brief central Andante is enigmatic, and the concluding Allegro vivace initially has an almost Mendelssohnian lightness against which the more assertive continuation stands in bold relief. The opening of the great C minor Sonata is properly imposing, almost imperious, yet never overinflated, while the second subject has just the right amount of inwardness. The Adagio is beautifully poised, and in the concluding Allegro Lewis combines urgency with moments of sparkling wit, a superbly judged account.
On the reissued second disc, the heart of the A major Sonata, D959, is unmistakably the second-movement Andante, a reading of exquisitely-poised melancholy and finely-judged contrasts, while the Scherzo takes on an almost macabre hue. It is arguably in the final B flat major Sonata, D960, that Lewis displays most effectively his skills as a great Schubertian. Here is a depth and breadth of insight that relishes the challenges of the opening movement's development section, the powerful yet restrained sentiment of the Andante sostenuto, the crystalline delicacy of the Scherzo, and the sublimely poignant leave-taking (never over-egged in this account) of the closing Allegro – the last piece of instrumental music Schubert would write.
Throughout these performances, Paul Lewis shows himself to be a Schubert player of rare insight, and there are few accounts of these heart-rendingly beautiful that can match these for wisdom, poetry or sureness of touch. Those listeners who already have the second disc in their collections need hardly feel aggrieved, for the asking price leaves no cause for complaint: well-presented and excellently recorded, this set is worth every penny!
1Piano Sonata in A minor D784 - I. Allegro giusto
2Piano Sonata in A minor D784 - II. Andante
3Piano Sonata in A minor D784 - III. Allegro vivace
4Piano Sonata in C minor D958 - I. Allegro
5Piano Sonata in C minor D958 - II. Adagio
6Piano Sonata in C minor D958 - III. Menuetto
7Piano Sonata in C minor D958 - IV. Allegro
8Piano Sonata in A major D959 - I. Allegro
9Piano Sonata in A major D959 - II. Andantino
10Piano Sonata in A major D959 - III. Scherzo
11Piano Sonata in A major D959 - IV. Rondo Allegretto
12Piano Sonata in B flat major D960 - I. Molto moderato
13Piano Sonata in B flat major D960 - II. Andante sostenuto
14Piano Sonata in B flat major D960 - III. Scherzo
15Piano Sonata in B flat major D960 - IV. Allegro
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